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Fighting for the Emperor: Nisei Soldiers in the Imperial Armed Forces

February 7, 2015 @ 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm  |  Japanese American Museum of San Jose


While more than 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans in the United States endured mass incarceration during WWII, the war also altered the lives of thousands of Japanese Americans who were stranded in Japan. For many Nisei strandees in Japan, the war blurred the boundaries of their citizenship, as they found themselves in situations where they had little room to negotiate their national allegiance. As the battles in the Pacific theater dragged on, the Japanese government drafted a significant number of Nisei men in Japan to serve in the military and take arms against the United States.

The Nisei soldiers and sailors in the Japanese armed forces who survived the war learned that they had been stripped of their U.S. citizenship as a result of their service to the Japanese emperor. Although these veterans of the Japanese military could recover their U.S. citizenship after the war, the onus was on them to convince the U.S. government that they had been forced to serve the Japanese emperor.

Dr. Michael Jin of Texas A&M University will be at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj) to discuss his research in a presentation entitled “The War and Its Aftermath: Nisei Draftees in the Imperial Armed Forces.” His presentation will be followed by a special discussion featuring two Japanese Americans who found themselves serving in the Japanese military during WWII: Peter Sano and Jimmie Matsuda.

MICHAEL JIN is an assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. His areas of specialty include migration and diaspora studies, critical race and ethnic studies, and Asian American and Pacific Islander history. He is currently working on a manuscript that examines the experiences of U.S.-born Japanese American migrants in Japan and the Japanese colonial world in Asia before and during WWII.

PETER SANO grew up in a large farming family in Brawley, California. At the age of 15, although he knew no Japanese, he was sent to Japan to become the adopted son of a wealthy uncle and aunt who were childless. In 1945, he was drafted into the Japanese Army and was sent to Korea, then Manchuria, close to the Soviet border. After his unit surrendered to the Russians, he was sent to a Siberian POW camp for nearly three years. He returned to the United States in 1952 and later wrote a book about his experiences entitled 1,000 Days in Siberia.

JIMMIE MATSUDA was born in 1927 in Hood River, Oregon. At the age of 11, while visiting Japan, he got sick, causing his family to miss the ship that was to carry them back to the United States. So they decided to stay in Japan. Bu t in 1943, after graduating from high school, Matsuda volunteered for the Japanese Navy and became a kamikaze pilot. His unit was ordered to Okinawa in 1945, but because of his knowledge of English, he was ordered to stay behind to translate U.S. military code. He returned to California in the early 1950s.

Cost: Free with admission to the museum (non-members, $5; students and seniors over age 65, $3; JAMsj members and children under 12, free).

RSVP: Contact or call (408) 294-3138 to reserve a spot.